The term diversity can be operationalized demographically (in terms of race, gender, nationality and the like) or intellectually (in terms of viewpoints, beliefs, political opinion and the like) (Duarte et al. 2014). Numerous studies have shown the severe lack of ideological diversity in universities across the US, with the vast majority of faculty leaning left-of-center (Cardiff & Klein 2005; Inbar & Lammers 2012; Langbert, Quain & B. Klein 2016).
Arguably, one of the largest contributors to viewpoint variance among humans is political orientation, since political beliefs closely align with an individual’s views on a large array of policy and moral issues (Emler, Renwick & Malone 1983). Thus, the ideological composition of college faculty can serve as a valid proxy to gauge the degree of viewpoint diversity in the Academy.
Despite the marginal representation of non-liberal viewpoints in the Academy, the degree of institutional protection granted to intellectual minorities in universities has been scarcely studied. Said disparity in representation of political opinion within the Academy and its infrequent study motivated the current research to determine the degree of protection that universities provide for intellectual minorities in their institutional statements.
In a recent study (“Why Are Nondiscrimination Policies Not Diverse?“), we carried out a quantitative content analysis for the presence of demographic and intellectual diversity related themes in mission, diversity and non-discrimination statements of US elite universities to compare the degree with which said statements embrace and protect demographic and viewpoint diversity. We have uncovered a relevant pattern, which could be symptomatic of an underlying ideological power structure. While most mission statements and diversity statements in the studied universities openly claim a commitment to protecting and fostering both demographic and viewpoint diversity, only a minority, 14%, explicitly protect viewpoint diversity in their non-discrimination statements. In contrast, archetypal categories of demographic diversity are overwhelmingly protected in non-discrimination statements. We find this disparity suspicious on the grounds of the vast underrepresentation of non-liberal viewpoints in the Academy.
Religious orientation defies straightforward categorization into the 2 clusters of demographic and intellectual diversity since religion can be both interpreted as a set of internal beliefs that relate humanity to the supernatural or transcendental and as a set of cultural practices, texts, sanctified places and organizations. Here, we focus on intellectual diversity associated with nonreligious beliefs, such as non-supernatural or non-transcendental viewpoints, ideas and political opinion. Therefore, we will ignore religion as a partial subtype of intellectual diversity.
Universities Institutional statements represent a useful source of data for gaining a glimpse into a university perspective on matters of purpose, aspirations, hidden assumptions and power structures. In this work, we carried out a content analysis of 3 widely prevalent University institutional statements: mission, diversity and non-discrimination statements.
Between February and March of 2017, we collected the mission, diversity and non-discrimination statements of 50 elite universities in the US, as ranked by US News University Ranking Charts, 2017. To analyze the content of the gathered institutional statements, we used an emergent coding technique where the themes and categories to be searched in the statements were established following preliminary examination of the data by the authors. Subsequently, 3 human raters examined each statement and binary coded the presence of diversity related themes into 3 tables, one for each type of statement: mission, diversity and non-discrimination (available in the supplementary material). We found high levels of interrater agreement on this task (Fleiss kappa=0.83). A detailed description of the methods used for coding the statements content is available as supplementary material (here).
We found a differential presence of 8 target themes in the studied mission statements (Figure 1). All mission statements analysed explicitly mentioned the commitment of the institution to the “education of students” and the “generation of new knowledge (research)”. The theme of the University serving as an agent for “improving the world“, had a 90% prevalence. The commitment of the University to “embrace” and/or “promote diversity” appeared in 80% of the mission statements studied.
Further analysis about the specific appearance of the diversity theme in mission statements revealed that out of the 40 universities (80% of our sample) that mentioned diversity in their mission statement, 29 (73%), explicitly referred to viewpoint diversity.
Archetypical categories of demographic diversity such as race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression or ethnicity are fairly prevalent in diversity statements, see Figure 2. Interestingly, explicit references to the desire of the institution to promote/welcome viewpoint diversity was the most cited type of diversity, appearing in 88% of the diversity statements studied.
Analysis of the non-discrimination statements revealed the most striking pattern of this work. Most demographic categories of diversity (race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, age) were explicitly and overwhelmingly protected in non-discrimination statements, see Figure 3. Oddly, diversity of ideas (beliefs, viewpoints, political orientation) was only explicitly protected (mentioned) in 14% of the non-discrimination statements studied.
We have uncovered a pattern of elite universities in the U.S. overwhelmingly claiming to embrace both demographic and intellectual diversity in their mission and diversity statements. Yet, only 14 percent of the universities studied explicitly protect viewpoint diversity in their nondiscrimination statements while most archetypical types of demographic diversity receive extensive protection. This stark contrast warrants the question of whether an institution can claim to truly value viewpoint diversity, as most of the studied universities say they do in their mission and diversity statements, when there is no actual protection of viewpoint diversity in their nondiscrimination statements. A related outstanding question is whether the conspicuous absence of viewpoint diversity protection in nondiscrimination statements is intentional or accidental.
The themes and features contained in institutional statements probably reflect the standpoint of those doing the writing— in the case of universities, faculty and university administrators. This raises the question of whether the absence of viewpoint diversity protection in nondiscrimination statements is due to latent hostility from the ideological majority toward nonconforming viewpoint minorities, a not uncommon phenomena in intellectually homogenous groups.
We can conceive of several criticisms regarding this work. First, it could be argued that institutional nondiscrimination statements are simply fixated on complying with federal laws as well as additional ordinances at the state level which specifically forbid discrimination for a number of protected classes, usually demographic subtypes of diversity such as race, gender or ethnicity. Political affiliation or belief is not considered a protected class under federal law, albeit a few states and jurisdictions do protect it (e.g. California, D.C. and New York).
However, as of the writing of this paper, there is also no federal law in the United States protecting individuals against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. A few states provide protection against employment discrimination for those groups, yet thirty U.S. states do not explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity in their antidiscrimination statutes. Still, most of the studied universities have overwhelmingly chosen to provide protection for sexual orientation and gender identity in their nondiscrimination statements, despite not being required to do so by law. Hence, a minority group not being officially protected by federal or state law does not preclude its inclusion in nondiscrimination statements when universities judge that such groups deserve protection. Furthermore, even when not compelled by federal or state law, a minority of universities (14 percent) still chose to explicitly protect viewpoint diversity in their nondiscrimination statements, suggesting that at least some universities recognize a need for protecting underrepresented viewpoints in the Academy.
A counterargument could be made that institutional statements are not a valid source for analysis since they are filled with vague platitudes that attempt to please a large variety of stakeholders with little actual consequence. Additionally, it is not prudent to state definitively that an institution does not protect viewpoint diversity just because their nondiscrimination statements are bereft of explicit language indicating that they do. Actions may confirm or refute the content of the nondiscrimination statement. It is true that mission and nondiscrimination statements, which are required by accreditation agencies and federal law, serve a normative role. However, institutional statements also serve a utilitarian purpose by signaling institutional beliefs, communicating with key stakeholders and protecting underrepresented groups. In that sense, they play a significant role in shaping institutional behavior and are therefore valid objects of analysis when studying the degree of protection offered by universities to demographic or intellectual minorities.
Critics could also point out that humans tend to discriminate more acutely against demographic categories of diversity such as race, sex or nationality than against intellectual types of diversity such as beliefs or political opinion. We find this argument to be at odds with the historical record on discrimination against ideas, such as pervasive political repression and persecution of viewpoints within dictatorial regimes. Recent research even hints at the strong tendency of humans to discriminate in terms of viewpoints by showing how educational attainment is related to decreases in interethnic/interracial prejudice, but also to increases in ideological prejudice (Henry & Napier 2017).
It is conceivable that greater protection of minority viewpoints in the academy could embolden underrepresented intellectual factions, which in turn could lead to polarization and antagonistic relationships between viewpoint clusters. Yet, the empirical evidence on the performance of polarized teams, embodying diverse cognitive resources and perspectives, suggests that such groups, when facing a complex problem, produce ideas, solutions, and designs that outperform those from homogeneous groups (Page 2008; Shi, Teplitskiy, Duede & Evans 2017; Williams & O’Reilly 1998; Jang 2017). Therefore, it would be beneficial for educational institutions to encourage adversarial collaboration of intellectually heterogeneous teams while establishing systems that ensure dissent or debate can take place in a productive and amicable manner.
Finally, it can also be contended that the lack of viewpoint diversity protection in nondiscrimination statements is due to universities’ reluctance to protect individuals or groups with extreme opinions, such as those justifying or inciting violence against other groups. We obviously do not endorse that universities should protect viewpoints that promote violence. Yet, this concern is inconsistent with universities’ attitudes towards religious diversity. Some extreme interpretations of religion can potentially lead certain followers to violent behavior against those they perceived as antagonists. Yet, the potential for occasional violent interpretation of religion does not prevent universities from overwhelmingly protecting religious diversity in their non-discrimination statements.
The results of our work suggest an easy step for educational institutions to wholeheartedly signal their welcoming of intellectual diversity. Namely, proactive institutional protection of viewpoint diversity in their nondiscrimination statements by extending to this type of diversity the same degree of protection already provided to archetypical categories of demographic diversity. Such a policy would communicate to internal and external stakeholders a strong institutional commitment to prevent discrimination and harassment based on ideas.
David Rozado & Stephen Atkins (2018). “Why Are Nondiscrimination Statements Not Diverse?” Academic Questions 31 (3): 295-303.
David Rozado is a Senior Lecturer in the College of Enterprise and Development at Otago Polytechnic (New Zealand).
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